Oh, Maha Music Festival, what has become of thee…? 

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , — @ 8:15 am February 22, 2024
The location where the Maha Music Festival was to be held in 2024…

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Last Thursday morning, I (along with other donors) received an email from Maha Music Festival President T.J. Twit that announced the decision by the Maha Board to “pause the festival in 2024 in consideration of upholding the Maha brand experience and its future sustainability and scalability.”

Wait, what?

The decision was made, Twit wrote, because over the past few years “the worldwide festival industry has faced an unprecedented increase in costs for talent, transportation, labor, security and insurance.” In fact, he said, costs increased about 50%. The Board also considered Maha Festival’s “model and forecasted resources,” which sounded like a veiled reference to the fact that two of Maha’s primary organizers, Emily Cox and Rachel Grace, both resigned from Maha last September, just months after the Maha announced it was moving the festival from Stinson Park in Aksarben Village to the newly remodelled Heartland of America Riverfront Park in downtown Omaha.

The plan for ’24 was to bring in a contracted production company to operate Maha’s day-of-show production and festival operations . For, as Twit said in this November 2023 article, “We signed a contract with MECA and as of right now plan on having a two-day festival the last week of July (2024).” 

But after months of searching, the organization never settled on a production company, who knows why but one assumes overall cost had something to do with it. There also were questions regarding how the Maha organization could mobilize the 800 volunteers who helped put on the festival in 2023 – a year that saw the return of pre-pandemic-sized crowds, with 12,000 in attendance over the festival’s two days (but that’s still more than 2,000 short of the record attendance enjoyed in 2019).

Last year’s fest suffered its share of bumps, one brought on by the weather. At one point during the Saturday festivities, Stinson Park had to be evacuated due to storm warnings. The evacuation and the dreadful process of getting everyone back into the park ate into afternoon concession sales. That wasn’t the only hit — Maha didn’t host food vendors inside festival grounds last year, either, forcing concert-goers to leave the park if they wanted to get something to eat. 

Add those hits to the “unprecedented increase in costs” and money becomes a central concern, especially when you’re moving to a new location where some costs are uncertain. 

Maha wasn’t the only long-running festival to cancel in 2024. Memphis’ Beale Street Music Festival, Detroit’s Mo Pop Festival and Columbia Missouri’s Treeline Festival also were casualties, and NME has written about how a number of festivals in the UK have been cancelled or postponed due to not being “economically feasible.” That NME article points to continued escallating costs in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Twit said in his letter that “Maha’s Board of Directors will spend 2024 recalibrating and exploring options and opportunities for Maha Festival to return in 2025, including looking into national partnerships.” National partnership? What could that mean? Perhaps National sponsors? “The Maha Festival, brought to you by Pizza Hut?” Maybe… If so, be prepared for drastic changes in format. It would be a shame if Maha moved away from the recipe — and the kind of musical line-ups — that made it so unique.

Immediately after the announcement, a number of local “experts” took to social media and declared the end of the Maha Festival, saying 2023 will wind up being its last year. Many of those “experts” have railed against Maha since its debut, mainly because they don’t like or listen to indie music or because their personal favorites haven’t been booked. No doubt none of those naysayers ever bought a ticket to a Maha Festival before, anyway.

Still, beyond last week’s press release, Maha has yet to do anything to dispel the rumors (and their own post on Facebook is rife with critics making unchallened inaccurate comments). I guess they think silence is the best approach, after all, you have to assume they’ve retained many of the large corporate sponsors who signed on for 2024 and beyond. If they’re serious about 2025, Maha needs to continue communicating on social channels (and with the local media) about how things are progressing throughout this year for next year. At least share their plan and vision going forward.

Because there’s one festival we’re definitely going to be hearing about this summer — the Outlandia Music Festival. With its announcement last week of its Aug. 9-10 dates, people are getting excited to find out the lineup. Outlandia now stands alone when it comes to local college rock/indie music festivals. And for their third year, we all expect big things…. 

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2024 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Read it and Weep: The Reader is gone… Can anything take its place?

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: — @ 7:15 am September 25, 2023

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

After spending decades writing a column, it was strange not having a deadline to meet this month. That’s because the September issue of The Reader is its last issue, as most of you know. 

And while there have been a few online tributes (most notably, this lengthy write-up in the Flatwater Free Press), to say the reaction has been “muted” is an understatement. 

John Heaston is the patriach of The Reader. His illness was a shock when first revealed; his fight to overcome it, an inspiration. That ongoing battle is the most important thing. I have no doubt John will win that battle and will be with us for decades to come. But it’s funny how something you assume will always be around, like The Reader, can go away so quickly. 

What’s the old saying: Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. Those who know me know that my column and other writings for The Reader and this website are merely side hustles, and that I make a living working at Union Pacific, which has been sending me a paycheck since 1988. My “plan” was to devote my time to The Reader as a freelancer after I retire from the railroad, whenever that day would come. But here we are. 

So I wrote the following column, which was published in the final issue and which went online here yesterday morning, to gauge interest in creating a new, more focused arts and entertainment weekly; a publication that unlike The Reader, would have no hard news or investigative reporting — The Flatwater Free Press provides that along with the Nebraska Examiner and what’s left of the Omaha World-Herald

Some (or many) might argue the idea of a printed publication is outdated in the smart phone/social media/digital era, and they may be right. Certainly the industry trend would point that way. Still…

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A Goodbye and a Modest Proposal

An argument for a weekly, printed arts and entertainment publication.

by Tim McMahan

So this is it, my last column written for The Reader.

The first installment of this column was dated Dec. 2, 2004. It focused on a young singer/songwriter named Willy Mason who few if any people remember. More than 600 (700? 800?) installments followed in different iterations, all with the same common denominator — they were published in newspapers run by John Heaston.

John is an Omaha hero, there is no other word for it. No single individual has done more for independent journalism than John. He’s kept this beautiful paper going longer than anyone thought he could. The Reader is now being put to rest for all the right reasons. Thank you, John, for everything you’ve done for this city and for journalism. Now it’s time to focus on a more important fight, which everyone knows you’ll win.

The demise of another printed newspaper shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has followed the industry’s eradication over the past 20 years with the rise of social media. U.S. newspapers die at a rate of two per week, according to a 2021 report by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. According to the report, 360 newspapers have shut down since the end of 2019, all but 24 of them weeklies serving small communities.

In addition to losing The Reader, we’ve all watched as the once mighty Omaha World-Herald continues to dwindle into a thin ghost of its formal self. And while its Husker football coverage remains first rate, among its casualties is its arts and entertainment reporting.

The irony, of course, is that Omaha’s arts and entertainment community is enjoying a much needed renaissance. We’ve seen hundreds of millions of dollars invested in new performance venues, including Steelhouse, The Admiral and The Astro. There are more music venues now than ever before. Omaha’s arts scene also is in full bloom with new art galleries opening monthly, not to mention the millions of dollars going into a remodeled and expanded Joslyn Museum. On top of that, Omaha is becoming renowned for its culinary offerings. Restaurants new and old are getting the attention of national food critics.

Now, maybe more than ever, Omaha needs an arts and entertainment publication to not only cover what’s happening, but also to provide a critical voice to tell us what’s worth seeking out.

And so, with apologies to Jonathan Swift, here’s a modest proposal for keeping critical journalism alive in Omaha:

We need a weekly, printed arts and entertainment publication. This free paper would cover music, art, film, food and theater. Each issue would include a feature for each section as well as reviews and a curated show/events calendar. In addition, a page would be dedicated to commentary and letters to the editor, because, let’s face it, it’s one thing to see your comments on Facebook and quite another to see them printed in a newspaper.

The paper would be funded by advertising from all these new and existing performance venues, galleries and restaurants (and anyone else willing to fork over some cash), which would also serve as distribution points for the paper, along with other businesses.

The editorial content would be powered by freelance contributors, including some of the writers, critics and photographers who wrote for this very paper. That team would split whatever money is left after printing and distribution costs were covered.

The paper would start small and only grow as needed. OK, but a printed paper?

The key to making it work is to provide content so compelling that people would seek it out and pick it up. But even then, in an age when you can simply scan news on your smartphone, why would people want to read old-fashioned printed words?

The fact is, folks are returning to analog media in droves. The growth in vinyl record sales, for example, is no secret, even though music is freely available online. Sales of printed books also is on the rise despite novels being available digitally. Heck, Barnes & Noble recently announced it’s opening 30 new book stores in the wake of record U.S. book sales in 2021, according to NPR.

So in addition to those analog examples, what would it take for people to also value a printed weekly publication? Are there enough readers and businesses left to support such a bold initiative? You tell me.

Honestly, a big part of this idea is purely selfish. As a writer, there’s something special and permanent about seeing your words printed on paper. It represents an investment in your ideas much more than seeing those words on a website or in the transient, noisy world of social media.

But more than that, the loss of The Reader is a gut punch to an arts culture that desperately needs an honest critical outlet not only to guide consumers but to provide feedback to the artists, musicians, chefs, thespians and filmmakers who make it thrive. AI and ChatGPT may someday replace news reporting, but it will never replace honest critical writing. Only a human can tell another human what s/he liked or didn’t like, and why.

So goodbye, Reader. Thanks for the memories. Here’s hoping something rises like a phoenix from your ashes for all of us to see, read and hold in our hands.

You can read Tim McMahan’s music and arts writing at his blog website, www.lazy-i.com. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

First published in The Reader, September 2023. Copyright © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


New Uh Oh, Sufjan Stevens, Middle Kids…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , , , — @ 7:36 am August 16, 2023

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Not a whole heckuva lot going on indie-music wise since last weekend’s Outlandia Festival. I didn’t attend again this year, but from all reports, it was another smashing success. The  Omaha World-Herald filed a story that says attendance rose by 25%, and I’ve got a request out with one of the organizers for attendance numbers, which I’ll pass along when/if I get them. 

In the wake of Outlandia, things have been pretty quiet in indie music land. Two festivals down and one more to go this weekend. I’ll post a preview of Petfest tomorrow. 

Over the weekend, my penultimate (i.e., my second to last) column for the soon-to-be-sunsetted The Reader went online. It looks back at the glory days of Omaha indie music with a head-scratch at the current state – we’ve got more mega-venues than ever, none of which are booking up-and-coming indie bands, nor, I suppose, are they designed to. Thank god for Outlandia, Maha and Petfest. You can read the story in the printed version of The Reader (pick one up at Hy-Vee or La Casa) or online right here. I’ll be posting the column in this space eventually (for posterity’s sake – who knows how long The Reader servers will stay online?). One more issue to go…

A few new releases to pass along:

Local indie project Uh Oh released their second single off their upcoming August Cicada Songs LP, “Firefly” b/w “”When the River Runs Low.” They’re releasing two new songs per month for the next few months. 

Sufjan Stevens released the first song off his first solo singer/songwriter album since 2015’s Carrie & Lowell. It’s called Javelin and comes out Oct. 6 on Asthmatic Kitty Records. No doubt a tour will follow. Will Omaha be on his tour schedule? Hope so.

Australian indie band Middle Kids are currently on tour opening for Manchester Orchestra and Jimmy Eat World. For whatever reason the kids weren’t included in this year’s Outlandia festival, which featured both those bands. Sometimes that’s just how it works. Their new single, “Highlands,” dropped a couple weeks ago. Let’s hope they come through Omaha again (maybe even at The Sydney, like last time).

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


The Astro takes shape; Mammoth’s Jeff Fortier talks about the project (in the column)…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , , — @ 7:38 am July 17, 2023

Under construction: The front of The Astro venue / amphitheater, taken July 6.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

The photos you see here were taken on July 6 and no doubt the crews constructing the new Astro venue/amphitheater in La Vista have made progress since then. I took a walk around the facility after work and snapped some photos. After talking to a neighbor and his wife, who were out taking a walk around the lake adjacent to the construction site, I began to understand the layout. I thought the amphitheater would be some sort of grassy knoll when, in fact, it’s more of an outdoor coliseum built off the back of the venue. I only know this because the dude had copies of the construction blueprints in his phone! Who knows where he got them. 

This wandering neighbor was a construction guy in his own right and said he’d worked on similar projects. Looking around, I said I couldn’t believe the place would be done in time for their first show at the end of August. He had little doubt they’d finish in time. “Looks to me like everything’s ready for them to button it up and finish the interiors. Look, they even have the railings up around the outside decks.” 

Just judging from the walk-around, it’s going to be an impressive facility that will have a major impact on the La Vista community. But, as the neighbor’s wife said, “It’s cool and all but it sure seems like we have a lot of venues for a town our size.” That sentiment was echoed in an interview I conducted with Jeff Fortier, co-owner of Mammoth Inc. and partner in The Astro project with One Percent Productions. You can read the interview and story in the current issue of The Reader, which is in the racks right now (you can find them at Hy-Vee or La Casa, among other places). The story also went online over the weekend, right here.

Here’s the article as it appeared in The Reader’s July 2023 issue:

Squeeze Play

The Astro Theater Enters a Crowded Market of Omaha Music Venues

by Tim McMahan

With the grand opening of The Astro indoor music venue and amphitheater in La Vista in late August, competition for booking national touring bands and performers just got that much more intense.

But before I get into that, let’s talk more about The Astro. The project was announced five years ago in June 2018 as a partnership among Omaha’s One Percent Productions, Kansas City’s Mammoth Inc., and developer City+Ventures. Thanks to a nasty pandemic, the project didn’t break ground until late September 2021.

Now, almost two years later, The Astro is ready for its debut. Located in the heart of La Vista at 8302 City Centre Drive, The Astro and The Astro Amphitheater boast state-of-the-art everything — acoustics, lighting and sound systems — with room capacities of around 2,400 in indoor venue and 5,500 at the connecting outdoor amphitheater.

“A lot of extra energy and detail went into the back stage, artist experience and customer experience,” Mammoth President Jeff Fortier said about the Astro project. “The backstage area has two catering rooms, a break room, a gym, a game room and more dressing rooms, showers and bathrooms than acts of this size need. We overdelivered. The venue also has the capabilities to do arena shows. The dock loading area is unbelievable. The Astro can handle 10 semis worth of gear. It’s not a normal venue, and the capabilities we have are unbelievable.”

Fortier co-owns Mammoth with business partner Josh Hunt, the company’s CEO. Fortier and Hunt have been booking shows in the Omaha market for more than 30 years at venues that include Sokol Auditorium and Underground, The Ranch Bowl, even legendary punk club The Cog Factory.

Astro business partner One Percent Productions — which, at its heart, is businessmen Marc Leibowitz and Jim Johnson — also has been booking live music in Omaha since 1997. One Percent, along with Saddle Creek Records, was critical in establishing Omaha as an indie music mecca in the early 2000s.

Earlier this year, the two companies — in partnership with Lincolnites Sean and Becki Reagan, who operate the The Bourbon Theater — opened the remodeled and refurbished Sokol Auditorium, renaming it The Admiral Theater.

“What One Percent Productions and Mammoth have done together with The Admiral and The Astro represents almost 30 years of hard work and patience,” Fortier said. “We’ve worked our whole careers and a good chunk of our lives to be able to create these venues.”

Over the years, One Percent wasn’t Mammoth’s only partner. The company partnered with Live Nation on a number of projects, including shows at The Uptown and Starlight theaters in Kansas City and arena shows in Omaha. But Live Nation’s aggressive business tactics began to pose a potential threat to Mammoth’s livelihood.

“The writing was on the wall; either we were going to go national or go out of business,” Fortier said.

He and Hunt put a plan together during the pandemic to go national. Mammoth currently employs more than 50 people in offices in New York, Portland, Los Angeles, Nashville, Lawrence, Kansas, and Kansas City.

How the Astro deal came about is a complicated story involving the developer, One Percent, Mammoth and Live Nation. In the end, Live Nation was the odd man out, but not for long.

Live Nation ended up putting together its own project with Omaha Performing Arts (O-pa) to build the 3,000-plus capacity Steelhouse Omaha, which appears to be hosting the same kind of national touring acts targeted by The Astro.

“(Live Nation) is pushing to do exclusive tours and keep anyone else from doing those kinds of acts,” Fortier said, “and they offer huge bonuses. And because they own the ticket company, the production company, the management company, the VIP company and the merch company, how is anyone going to compete?”

Fortier, who hopes to continue to work with Live Nation as well as The Holland Center and The Orpheum — venues controlled by O-pa — said it could get a little tricky competing with Steelhouse. Are there maybe too many players in a pond the size of Omaha? “I think that is the understatement of the day,” Fortier said.

“Listen, we’ve tried to design the venue so we can do bigger stuff than them and smaller stuff than them and leave them their lane, and hopefully figure out a way that the market works for all of us.”

Fortier says both Mammoth and One Percent will book The Astro. “We have a 50/50 co-pro with One Percent,” he said. “They do a lot of heavy lifting at The Admiral, and I think that we’re going to be doing bigger chunks of heavy lifting at The Astro.”

As of June 19, The Astro has booked nine shows for its indoor venue, including funk band Here Come the Mummies on Sept. 7; Beth Hart on Sept. 16; Ancient Aliens on Sept. 21; Casey Donahew on Sept. 22; Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band on Sept. 24; The Gaslight Anthem on Sept. 30; Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder on Oct. 15 and Wilco on Oct. 23. The Astro Amphitheater kicks things off Aug. 30 with Rick Springfield, followed by Goo Goo Dolls on Sept. 23; 311 on Sept. 29 and Dropkick Murphys on Oct. 5.

The current concert lineup reflects the kind of acts The Astro will be booking moving forward, Fortier said. “I think we’ll take a look at all the different cultures and communities that are part of Omaha,” he said. “We’re going to try to represent everybody. I think we’re off to a great start.”

Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

A look at the back of The Astro, where the amphitheater will be located.

Another look at the edge of the Astro amphitheater looking from the back toward the north.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Flaming Lips tonight and a review of Steelhouse Omaha…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , — @ 7:38 am June 16, 2023
Flaming Lips at The Maha Music Festival, Aug. 17, 2013. The band performs tonight at Steelhouse Omaha.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Flaming Lips’ 2002 album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is a ubiquitous indie moment from a band that had already been around for nearly 20 years, an album that itself is now 21 years old. It’s also clearly the band’s most “pop” moment and most successful release, selling more than 500,000 copies according to Nielsen SoundScan. Single “Do You Realize?” — once the “official rock song of Oklahoma” — was written by frontman Wayne Coyne as a reaction to seeing fellow band member Steven Drozd suffer from heroin withdrawal, and for my money by itself is worth the price of the album… and a ticket to tonight’s performance at Steelhouse Omaha.

If the show is anything like Tuesday’s gig at Riverside Theater in Milwaukee (setlist here), expect them to run through the entire album followed by a 10-song second set that includes really their only other hits, “She Don’t Use Jelly” and “Race for the Prize” from 1999’s The Soft Bulletin, as well as a cover (They did Madonna’s “Borderline” in Milwaukee). All followed by a three song-encore. and upchuck-inducing recording of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.”

No doubt it will be a spectacle as Coyne is nothing if not a showman (Get out those confetti cannons!) If you’re wondering what you’re in for, check out my review of Steelhouse Omaha that was published in the current issue of The Reader (also below). For many indie fans, this will be their first venture into the facility. My advice – stand up and enjoy the ride (cuz there ain’t no seats). 

You can purchase directly from the Steelhouse website for as low as $50. Starts at 8:30 p.m. 

And that, my friends, is about it for the weekend. Nothing worth mentioning at 1% venues and Slowdown is in CWS mode. If I missed your show, put it in the comments section. Have a great weekend.

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First published in The Reader, June 2023:

A Killer of a Grand Opening

Steelhouse Omaha Is a Testament to the City’s Resolve

Although still fresh in most of our memories, we have to acknowledge what we were about to face in November 2019 when Omaha Performing Arts (O-pa) announced the yet-to-be-named, $109 million project that would become Steelhouse Omaha.

The idea of a world-crippling pandemic was the last thing on anyone’s mind at the time. That would come a few months later, in March 2020, when COVID-19 became the center of everything, shutting down our world and the music industry with it.

O-pa’s plan suddenly seemed like a fool’s dream — no one knew what was going to happen with the pandemic. At the same time, the project was a beacon of hope, assurance that somehow we’d get through all the sickness and death, that O-pa and its patrons must know something or they wouldn’t hold onto a commitment to build a facility designed to host a crowd of 3,000 like a herd of cattle, standing shoulder to shoulder in a windowless, confined hall – the absolute last place anyone would want to be in the middle of an airborne-spread health crisis.

And yet, here I was, three-and-a-half years later, COVID-19 much less threatening, standing in a security line next to a bank of search lights on the night of Steelhouse Omaha’s grand opening, waiting to dive head-first into a maskless crowd. Ain’t humanity amazing?

Located at 11th and Dodge, only a stone’s throw from the Holland Performing Arts Center, Steelhouse is destined to become a landmark for live music. From the ground up, it is an ultra-modern concert hall that appears to have erupted right out of the concrete in downtown Omaha. 

For its May 12 grand opening, booking The Killers – a band that usually plays 20,000-seat arenas — was like learning to swim by being tossed into a deep, dark lake. Tickets sold out in minutes. I guess if you’re going to pressure-test the system, do it right out of the box.

To O-pa’s credit, Steelhouse passed the hospitality portion of the test with flying colors, thanks to a massive phalanx of smiling, crew-shirted staff at every turn. No gruff, overworked bouncers here — all these folks looked like they were having a good time. After walking through the lobby with its large merch and bar/concessions areas, I bee-lined to the main hall — cram-packed with T-shirt-clad fans holding plastic cups.

First impressions: Wow, this is big and wide open. Concession stands were built into the walls on each side of the hall and in the back – they were everywhere. Even with a sold-out crowd, I had no problem buying my $13 pint of mango wheat beer. All purchases were cashless, so if you go, grab your credit card and ID and leave your wallet at home. 

Now with beer in hand, things got tricky. The main floor was already crush-full. I stepped into the mass of humanity a couple of times just to check out the sight lines. Instead of being sloped, the standing-only floor area seemed flat, but the stage was raised high enough so sight lines would be a problem only for the most height-challenged fans. 

Somehow, I ended up standing on one of the elevated decks along stage right, where I noticed a guy manning what looked like a battery of cannons.

“Confetti cannons?” I asked. He nodded, smiling. “When will those go off? At the beginning? At the end?”

“All night,” the guy said. “The Killers love their confetti.”

We all discovered this shortly after 8 p.m. when the band took the stage and – bamf! — off went the cannons in a glittering cloud of paper as The Killers slammed into their opening number. And the crowd, as they say, went wild.

The room sounded pretty good overall, if a bit tinny and oversaturated on the high end. Volume was even throughout the facility. The arsenal of lighting was impressive, as was the giant backdrop video that augmented every song. It was as if The Killers had brought a Las Vegas stage show to Omaha (because they sort of did).

The challenges began when I turned around to make my way to the back of the hall. People were smashed all the way across the aisles, requiring that I shoulder my way against the current of flesh. Still, I never felt trapped. The main auditorium is designed with large exit doors that open into a secondary lounge where the bathrooms are located, then into a large patio area — both nice touches and places to escape to when you feel overwhelmed by the sound and noise. 

Later that weekend, I returned to the Steelhouse Open House to get a look at the facility without all the people, and yes, all the metal and concrete did feel rather sterile in the cold light of day. But you go for the rock show, not the feng shui.

That evening The Killers slammed through one song after the next, never slowing down and only briefly acknowledging that they had the honor of playing the grand opening. “We’ve been asked to christen The Steelhouse,” frontman Brandon Flowers yelled.“Usually we’re asked to blow the roof off the place!” 

Not tonight. All in all, the grand opening felt like a success for Steelhouse and for a city that somehow soldiered through a catastrophe and found music on the other side.

Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Steelhouse Omaha on its booking strategy, Live Nation, Ticketmaster, local acts and indie music (in the column)…

Category: Column — Tags: , , — @ 8:05 am May 4, 2023
Book it and They Will Come: With Its Opening May 12, Steelhouse Hopes to Put Omaha Back on the Tour Map

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

The May issue of The Reader is out and in its pages is my column that features an interview with Omaha Performing Arts President Joan Squires and Steelhouse booking director Erika Hansen. 

The lengthy article covers a wide range of topics, including their recent legacy-act bookings and how they fit into one of their missions of bringing younger people downtown, why they chose Live Nation as their exclusive promoter, their thoughts on Ticketmaster, fan discontent over The Killers quick sell-out, using local acts as openers and the options for booking touring indie acts. And more.

The article is in the new issue of The Reader which may or may not be on newsstands now (I couldn’t find one last night), but it’s also online right here on The Reader website

The interview took place late last month via Zoom and I decided to put the story online now since people would be buzzing about last night’s insider Steelhouse sneak preview. There’s more to the interview than made it into the article, and I intend to put a bow on the story sometime next week in Lazy-i. Until then, here’s the story

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Translating Maha (in the column); Who is Water from Your Eyes (Saturday w/Snail Mail)…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , , — @ 7:41 am April 5, 2023
Water from Your Eyes at Reverb Dec. 4, 2022. The band opens for Snail Mail at The Slowdown Saturday.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

The April issue of The Reader is out and it includes a tongue-in-cheek RIYL column about Maha. The copy editor at The Reader didn’t know RIYL meant Recommended If You Like and took it out of the headline, which I guess I get but isn’t the purpose of headlines to grab people’s attention? Anyway, in addition to being in print the column is online here. Fun!

Much in the same vein as that column, a friend of mine asked me about this Saturday’s Snail Mail concert at Slowdown, specifically, who is Water from Your Eyes? It sounds like the perfect name for an emo band, but they’re anything but emo. 

Recently signed to Matador Records, the Brooklyn duo consists of Rachel Brown and synther / guitarist Nate Amos (This is Lorelei) and is described as “experimental pop music that’s pretty and violent, raw and indelible” which makes one think of art-infected ninjas bearing Sharpees. 

They’re last album, Structure, was released on Wharf Cat in 2021, which apparently caught Matador’s attention, who will release Everyone’s Crushed May 26. 

I had the good fortune of being among the dozen people who caught Water from Your Eyes when they opened for Palm this past December at Reverb. 

From the review of that show

The duo of vocalist Rachel Brown and guitarist Nate Amos were joined by a third person on guitar and were backed by some thumping rhythm tracks. If you’d fallen across the duo’s past recordings, like 2019’s Somebody Else’s Song (Exploding in Sound Records) or even 2021’s artier Structure (Wharf Cat) you would have been ill-prepared for the sound barrage of last night’s set. 

At the heart of it was deep, blaring pre-recorded synths joined by Amos’ acidic, feedback-drenched guitar that interlaced with Brown’s untouched, unprocessed vocals that sounded like your little sister singing along to art-damaged post-punk. Harsh, throbbing sonic textures repeated trancelike with the second guitar providing counter riffs. 

The evening’s highlight was a brittle interpretation of “Adeleine,” a track from Somebody Else’s Song, reinterpreted with rough synths and guitar, barely recognizable compared to the original, but a better fit in what turned out to be one of my favorite sets I’ve seen this year. 

They were, indeed, somewhat awesome and are worth the price of Saturday night’s show by themselves.

Here’s their latest single. Get tix while you can…

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Outlandia line-up annoucement imminent; Amyl does Omaha; Philly’s Grocer Vs. Pitchfork (in the column)…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , , — @ 10:59 am March 14, 2023

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Outlandia yesterday officially announced that the two-day festival returns Aug. 11 and 12 to Falconwood Park in Bellevue, with a line-up announcement in late March.

This year’s fest will for the first time offer a limited number of RV and camping locations, which was part of the original Outlandia vision. As for the actual lineup: “In its second year, Outlandia is staying true to its vision of featuring established and emerging indie, alternative and alt‐country artists and celebrating the community’s love of music,” said Outlandia cofounder Marc Leibowitz of One Percent Productions.

Outlandia will be challenged to beat last year’s line-up, topped by Wilco and The National. My two “guesses” of who could do that are The Pixies and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I guess we’ll see soon enough.

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Another Outlandia guess would have been Amyl and the Sniffers, but instead we’re going to get them Oct. 18 at The Admiral. This will be a cool show. Pre-show tix go on sale Wednesday (sign up from the Amyl website), with general ticket sales happening Friday morning. 

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Philly band Grocer returns to Reverb Lounge Sunday night. In support of that show, I interviewed the band for my monthly column in The Reader. The topic – are brutally negative album reviews necessary in an era when all music is available all the time. It’s not like ye olden days, when you shelled out your hard-earned cash, took home the album and hoped that the singlers weren’t the only decent tracks on the record. You simply didn’t know until after you bought the record. My, how things have changed.

Grocer was particularly irritated about a Pitchfork review of Maneskin’s shitty new album (and Steve Albini’s Steely Dan takedown), and said so in Twitter. See what they had to say either by picking up a copy of the March issue of The Reader at any of your favorite pick-up locations (mine is La Casa on Grover Street) or read it online right here. … Actually, here’s the column in its entirety, posted for posterity (because The Reader’s articles have a way of disappearing in a few years, unlike Lazy-i’s content, which lives forever….). 

Haters Gonna Hate

Early last month, Pitchfork, an online indie music news and reviews website, published a blisteringly negative review of glam-rock album “Rush!” by the Italian band Måneskin. Negative reviews are nothing new for Pitchfork, but this one was particularly biting; its sentiment was neatly summed up in the article’s subhead, in which author Jeremy Larson described the record as “absolutely terrible at every conceivable level.”

You’d think such a record would rate a 0.0 on Pitchfork‘s 10-point scale, but somehow the album garnered a 2.0. A rating that low catches people’s attention, and sure enough, the review received “viral lift” on social media by music fans who celebrated Larson’s butchery of an album they likely never would have listened to otherwise. And isn’t that what rock criticism is all about?

Not to Nick Rahn, guitarist/vocalist of Philadelphia-based indie band Grocer, which is slated to play at Reverb Lounge on March 19. Rahn headed to Twitter, posting from the band’s account: “Hot take alert: We no longer have a need for negative music reviews when you can listen to anything you want for free and form your own opinion.”

Rahn’s rebuttal continued in the threaded tweet. “I get that it feels good to shit on things you don’t like but is it helpful? Does it have a place on a public forum? With so much music out there isn’t it more useful to single out music you like than to single out music you don’t like? Also can we stop saying that music is ‘good’ or ‘bad’? It’s ok to have an opinion. You don’t need to be an authority on the objective quality of something just because it doesn’t register as ‘cool’ for you.”

Rahn’s reaction came a day after a different critical brouhaha boiled over on Twitter, this time featuring legendary post-punk recording engineer Steve Albini lambasting (of all things) ’70s yacht rock supergroup Steely Dan.

Albini, whose contribution to music history includes recording classic albums from grunge icons The Pixies, Nirvana and PJ Harvey, tweeted a bunch of one-liners about the band responsible for such hits as “Peg” and “Deacon Blues,” including: “Christ the amount of human effort wasted to sound like an SNL band warm up,” and “Music made for the sole purpose of letting the wedding band stretch out a little.”

As both a longtime Steely Dan fan and long-time Albini fan, this produced a chuckle. Others were not so amused, as online publications including Pitchfork “amplified” Albini’s rant, resulting in much venting of spleen on social media. Grocer reacted to this on Twitter, too: “If we are going to get upset every time an old guy has an opinion on Steely Dan there is no hope for us to survive in this world.” Huzzah!

Grocer bandmates, drummer/vocalist Cody Nelson and bassist/vocalist Danielle Lovier, said people got pissed about Rahn’s Pitchfork tweets.”They reacted angrily,” Rahn said via a phone interview.

“A lot of people took the comments to say that we don’t want to be criticized,” Nelson said. “When a multimillion-dollar company owned by Conte Nast decides to heat up conversation for a day, it’s going to be lame. The review’s author should have said he hates (the album) on twitter. For Pitchfork, (the review) is being mean for no reason. There was a period of time when a Pitchfork review could stop careers from thriving. These days it doesn’t matter.”

“What is weird,” Lovier added, “is that people will hate-listen to that album now.”

Lovier is right. I listened to the Måneskin album only because of its viral negative review and 2.0 rating. I never would have if Pitchfork rated it between 5.0 and 8.0. And while Rahn is correct that people can find out for themselves if an album is good or bad now that music is so freely available, that availability doesn’t come with the one valuable thing we all need to listen to new music — time.

Instead of hate-listening to the latest Måneskin album, Grocer would prefer you listen to their new album, “Scatter Plot,” released March 3 on Philly label Grind Select. Having listened to both, I can attest your time will be better spent.

And you can bet that, despite the criticism of Pitchfork, Grocer would love the so-called “bible of Indie music” to review their album.

“We would love them to pan us,” Nelson said. “And let’s face it, it’s better for (Pitchfork) to attack a band no one’s heard of than, say, Greta Van Fleet.”

Grocer performs at Reverb Lounge on March 19 with Bad Self Portraits and Estrogen Projection. Showtime is 8 p.m., tickets are $10. For more information, go to onepercentproductions.com.

Originally published in The Reader, March 14, 2023. Copyright © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Chatting with the Alien (in the column); Lincoln Exposed begins tonight…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , — @ 3:54 pm February 19, 2023

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Feb. 9, 2023 – The February issue of The Reader is on newsstands (or so I’m told) and within its pages is the following column wherein I ask ChatGPT about the Omaha music scene. You can read it online at The Reader website right here, or you can read below, where its included for posterity’s sake. 

Tonight is the kick-off of the 18th anniversary of Lincoln Exposed. Check out the line-up and get ticket info here

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Chatting with Our Inevitable Replacement

The Reader, February 2023

Omaha, Nebraska, has a vibrant and diverse music scene, with a mix of local and national acts performing in venues throughout the city. The city is home to several music venues, including the Slowdown, The Waiting Room, and the Holland Performing Arts Center. These venues host a variety of music genres, including rock, indie, hip-hop, electronic, and jazz.

Thus began my chat with OpenAI’s ChatGPT. What, pray tell, is ChatGPT? It’s a computer-based “answering machine” that interacts in a conversational way, but unlike other chatbots, it not only provides answers, but it also admits its mistakes, challenges incorrect premises and rejects inappropriate requests. And it does all this by tapping into its own data in its “neural network” rather than searching the web. I guess you could say it “thinks.”

ChatGPT doesn’t just write simple phrases, it composes full essays as if written by a human being, but with much better grammar (certainly better than mine). Think of it as a HAL 9000 computer with better manners.

Since its launch in November, ChatGPT has been used to write everything from poetry to movie scripts, even to write songs in the style of Nick Cave. It’s like a deep fake for literature. In fact, the program has proven to be a headache in the academic world. Axios reports ChatGPT is being used by some dodgy college students to write term papers … and getting away with it. They call it Chat Cheating.

Algorithmic journalism — or robot journalism — is nothing new. There’s a good chance the financial report, earnings review, even the recap of last night’s Knicks game was written by a robot. Writing stats-based stories is kind of robotic by its very nature, but could ChatGPT write fluently about art and culture — or, for that matter, local music?

To find out, I pulled up chat.openai.com on my Mac, created an account and began asking questions about the Omaha music scene. The initial responses were somewhat mundane and not much different than a Wiki search. Like anything else, I tended to skip over what it got right and zoomed in on the mistakes.

For example, it listed The Hive among the city’s “several independent music venues” alongside The Waiting Room, O’Leaver’s, the Slowdown and Reverb. The Hive has been closed for years and was never an indie music venue. It listed Hear Nebraska as a top source for indie music news, though that website hasn’t been active since 2017. When it didn’t list Lazy-i.com among the city’s indie blogs, it apologized, and later listed Tim McMahan as “a notable figure in the Omaha music scene.” Hear! Hear! Clearly this is Machine Learning at its finest.

As the discussion went on, ChatGPT began crafting its answers around what it presumed were my preferences, ignoring a broader view of Omaha music. Asked “What are some of the best bands in Omaha?” ChatGPT listed Bright Eyes, Cursive, The Faint, The Good Life, Ladyfinger (ne), The Mynabirds and O+S. Most of those bands haven’t released new music in a decade. Asked to list the best non-indie bands, it came up with 311, Saddle Creek Records, The Decatures, The Hottman Sisters, Big Harp, Digital Leather and Icky Blossoms — some of which are inactive or no longer living in Omaha.

But it got weirdly accurate when asked to list the “worst things about Omaha’s music scene.” ChatGPT’s answers ranged from “Limited exposure: Omaha is not a major music industry hub” to “Omaha has limited opportunities for local bands to perform” to “Omaha is not a main destination for touring bands.” Where was it getting this information?

Conversely, when asked how Omaha could improve its music scene, ChatGPT turned into a sage. Among its seven-point plan:

  1. By providing more funding and resources to local bands and venues, Omaha could help to support and grow the local music scene. This could include things like grants, low-interest loans, and tax incentives for music-related businesses.
  2. By working to develop an industry infrastructure, Omaha could help to connect local bands and venues with agents, managers, and other industry professionals who can help them take their careers to the next level. This could include things like music conferences, networking events, and mentorship programs.
  3. By promoting the Omaha music scene to a national and international level, the city could help to draw more attention to the local music scene and attract more visitors to the city. This could include things like hosting music festivals, creating a music-themed tourist trail, and working with local media outlets to promote the scene.

Further points included encouraging diversity, developing more affordable housing, encouraging collaboration and networking, and increasing education and mentorship opportunities. It’s hard to fault any of the robot’s suggestions, which leads me to believe at the very least that ChatGPT could replace our local politicians after it replaces our local music writers.

Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

First published in The Reader, February 2023. Copyright © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special em


Music Visions for 2023: A look forward (and backward) at the Omaha and national indie music scenes; BIB, Whipkey tonight…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , — @ 7:41 am January 11, 2023

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

What mysteries will be revealed as I gaze into my magic Fender Squire Strat and see the future of Omaha’s (and the nation’s) indie music scene? Ah, but before we get to 2023, let’s see how I did with my predictions for 2022:

2022 Prediction: COVID-19 will have its last ugly gasp this winter and then will quickly fade away (except from our memories). By late summer, music venues’ mask-and-vax mandates will be a thing of the past.

Reality: Mask-and-vax mandates are distant memories, but COVID is still very much with us.

2022 Prediction: With TikTok creating the next generation of pop stars, more indie acts will take advantage of the platform.

Reality: TikTok remains a potent talent incubator … for pop stars, not indie stars.

2022 Prediction: The Maha Music Festival will be back and at full capacity. But it won’t be alone. Another Nebraska-based, indie-flavored, day-long music festival will be announced in ’22 that will be in direct competition.

Reality: The Outlandia Festival, with headliners Wilco and The National, was launched at Falconwood Park in Bellevue.

2022 Prediction: With two small music venues closing in ’21, watch as a new, small live-music venue opens to help fill the void.

Reality: There have been new venues in the past year, but nothing could replace The Brothers.

2022 Prediction: Helping fill those small-venue stages will be an army of next-generation indie bands created during the pandemic, many consisting of children of the aught-era indie bands that made Omaha famous.

Reality: Only a couple come to mind: Cat Piss and Pagan Athletes, both bands featuring the progeny of local music legend John Wolf.

2022 Prediction: Unfortunately, when it comes to popular national indie acts, we’ll continue to be “NOmaha” for national tours.

Reality: See my year in review story, published here last month. Pretty much dead-on target.

2022 Prediction: Look for another big-time indie music name to be taken down by a #metoo-style scandal.

Reality: In August, Arcade Fire’s Win Butler was accused of sexual misconduct.

2022 Prediction: After opening offices in Los Angeles and New York City, Saddle Creek Records will make a major announcement that will impact the label’s Omaha legacy.

Reality: Nothing new here, though is their Omaha staff shrinking?

2022 Prediction: Bands and performers we’ll be talking about this time next year: David Nance, Little Brazil, Modest Mouse, Christian Lee Hutson, DIIV, Spoon, Desaparecidos, Yo La Tengo, Jenny Lewis and (once again) Phoebe Bridgers.

Reality: Nance, Little Brazil, CLH, Spoon, Hutson, Desa, YLT and Bridgers all had new releases in 2022.

2022 Prediction: No Filter 2021 will be the last Rolling Stones tour.

Reality: The Stones are immortal.

2022 Prediction: A certain music journalist will begin compiling information for an oral history of the Omaha/Nebraska music scene.

Reality: Not yet, but soon.

2022 Prediction: After years of being shut out, a Saddle Creek Records act will finally perform on “Saturday Night Live.”

Reality: Ugh! I’m giving up!

So, six out of 12 – 50%? Bah, I can do better than that! Let’s take a look at what will happen in 2023:

Prediction: For a majority of young indie music acts, recording and releasing entire albums is costly and almost always a money loser. Beginning this year, we’ll begin to see a new focus on bands (and labels) promoting individual tracks rather than full albums. Is the album era beginning to wane?

Prediction: With inflation through the roof and the erosion of album revenues, touring also has become a money-losing proposition for new bands. Watch as more artists join Santigold, who cancelled her tour in September stating the current tour model is not sustainable. For many bands, touring will be limited to close-to-home markets.

Prediction: Big music festivals and national indie tours will be dominated almost solely by legacy bands in ’23 — acts whose heydays were one, two, even three decades ago. OK Boomer.

Prediction: Also in the bummer category, despite the vinyl explosion, downtown Omaha will not be able to sustain so many record stores. Watch as one of them closes its doors in ’23.

Prediction: In a shrewd, money-making move, a number of large local stages once known for hosting indie rock shows will begin booking full weekends of cover bands, Ranch Bowl-style.

Prediction: Omaha Performing Arts’ new Steelhouse music venue will open in May. Booked by Live Nation, it won’t be afraid to take chances (partially because it’s a funded nonprofit) and will pump new life into Omaha’s waning indie music scene.

Prediction: The Maha Festival will make a huge announcement after it enjoys yet another successful year in 2023. Don’t worry, great things are on its horizon.

Prediction: Meanwhile, Outlandia Festival will be bigger and better in Year 2, adding on-site camping and a broader array of artists, including new breakthrough indie acts.

Prediction: So, does Omaha have room for a third music festival? You better believe it. Watch for the announcement.

Prediction: The band with the longest-running original lineup, U2, will finally come to an end.

Prediction: Bands we’ll be talking about this time next year: David Nance, Lewsberg, Phoebe Bridgers (again), The Faint, Courtney Barnett, The Smiths, Parquet Courts, Hand Habits, Orville Peck, Matt Whipkey, Cactus Nerve Thang, Icky Blossoms and Car Seat Headrest.

Prediction: A huge movie crew will arrive here in River City in ’23 to begin filming a Netflix/Amazon/Hulu docu-drama series about the music scene during the early 2000s. Omaha, get ready for your closeup!

Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

First published in January 2023 issue of The Reader. Copyright © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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I predict two shows of importance tonight…

Omaha noise/punk band BIB (Pop Wig Records) kicks off yet another tour tonight at Reverb Lounge. Joining them on tonight’s bill are Total Sham, Dose, and Fire Sign. $10, 8 p.m.

Also tonight, Matt Whipkey, Justin Lamoureux and Aly Peeler are having “singer/songwriter roundtable” at The Jewell. $10, 7 p.m.

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Lazy-i Best of 2022

Relive the year gone by with the  Lazy-i Best of 2022 Comp CD!

The collection includes my favorite indie tunes I’ve come across throughout the past year as part of my tireless work as a music critic for Lazy-i and The Reader. Among those included: Big Thief, Arcade Fire, Belle and Sebastian, Sudan Archive, Megan Siebe, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Plains, Simon Joyner, Rosie Thomas and more.  The full track listing is here.

To enter to win a copy of the CD, send me an email with your mailing address to tim.mcmahan@gmail.com. Hurry, contest deadline is Thursday, January 12, at midnight.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.